I have been in continuous recovery for 33 years, which means I have not had to use alcohol or any other drugs since September 27, 1983. I am alive, alert and aware. Everything I do today is a result of recovery. I have that quiet sense of assurance that my life is on the right course. I feel I must tell my recovery story because I believe our stories have power. We are not bad people, and, we did not bring this addiction upon ourselves.
The documentary “The Anonymous People” awakened something in me and showed me the value of “coming out” –letting my story help others, not just alcoholics. Overcoming the stigma is a problem for us. It never really leaves us. It is alive and well and addressed in our grassroots “new” recovery movement.
I joined the “new” recovery movement a little over a year ago. What was I doing those years between? The truth is that I have been very active in the 12 step world, which is now referred to as “mutual aid groups,” going to meetings, sponsoring people, doing “service” work, reading the literature and praying. The new recovery movement called this “lived experience” and told me I could help without all the formal credentials. It invited me in.
The most valuable lesson in recovery for me has been learning that my human resources are not enough. I have to have help. Reason and intellect are not all that is needed. I have opened up and become willing to listen to other ways of living.
With the intellect out of the way a whole new world appeared. I am now, for example, able to say things like, “I lied, cheated, and stole,” not easy for me to say. But I promised, to be honest. That perfect specimen of a human being was flawed. Taking a “fearless and searching moral inventory” has shown me, to see myself as I am, the good and the bad. This revelation was later to lead me to identify with drug addiction as well as alcohol.
Alcohol abruptly ended the career path I had. The first five years saw my marriage end. It took another five years to learn to become single and accept self-employment. The next five years saw my sexual orientation change. Learning to be true to myself allowed this. I needed to redefine myself, and accept a new way of life. I can now say that I was truly “reborn.”
In younger years I was a cute, smart kid--blonde hair and blue eyes, and school came easy for me. My intellect had always worked well for me. I was allowed to start school early and later skipped a grade in elementary school. I made it to high school at age 11. I always got straight A’s. That was all that I thought I needed in life.
The answer was and still is the same answer today--to let go, one of those basic spiritual concepts. Continuing to live life on a spiritual basis is the goal in my recovery today.
What happened to get me here started in 1983. On a Fall day in Northern Virginia while at work, I was called to an office and confronted about some of my extravagant spending (of their money). I was a Legal Administrator in a large prestigious law firm. I had complete control of finances. Once the evidence presented, I had no choice but to resign. I did that very day.
Understanding what had happened was critical. I had a wife, two kids, two cars, a house in the suburbs and all the other attributes of a good life. What had I missed? How could I have done something so wrong? I wasn’t the person I thought I was. My self-image shattered. That intelligent, capable and responsible individual had failed at life. The situation became my turning point. The rug had to be pulled out from under me to get my attention.
After a day or two of deep agonizing thought and crippling fear, I believe there was a sort of epiphany--a “divine” intervention. I saw the problem, and it was alcohol. As I thought about the problem, it seemed like I was watching a slot machine spinning and all the windows coming up alcohol, alcohol, alcohol! I suddenly could see how it infiltrated almost every area of my life. I managed to put two and two together and made that all important call for help, and thus, the recovery journey began.
From that very first call (to a treatment program) for help, something happened. Maybe this was that rigorous honesty talked about in 12 step programs or the “bottom” they say needs to happen. I had given up. Right away I felt that someone was looking out for me. The people on the phone seemed to know how to talk to me and tell me what I needed to hear. The rehab was in a local hospital and seemed safe and, luckily, my health insurance was still in effect.
My experience in the 28-day rehab was significant. There I made the discovery that I was, in fact, an alcoholic and that it was a disease, not a moral failing. I was made to do a chronology, a review of my drinking history and problems it had caused. It helped me see things as they were. This step was the beginning. Looking at my past made me see what the “setup” was.
In elementary school, I can see one of the first signs of addiction. Today it is called “ huffing.” I passed out one morning at school (in the first grade) by breathing in and out as fast as I could, then holding my breath until I passed out. I liked the “high” and all the attention it got me.
In high school, I just had to be cool, but being smart and younger than others would not work in my opinion. I became embarrassed and felt I needed to “dumb down” to gain acceptance in the “fun crowd.” This was another “set-up.” Trying to be something I wasn’t, hiding the truth. I began to lie about my age. I dressed like my peers and hid my good grades from them. Being on the Honor Roll was just not cool. The need to fit in was necessary. My high school yearbook states “well dressed,” “loves those weekends,” and “party goer.”
One incident in early recovery allowed me to understand the paradox “there is victory in defeat.” I was the setup person at a 12-Step meeting and lost the keys to the church one time, mortified when I couldn’t find them. I put my vast intellect to work, trying every means possible to find the keys or someone who could let me in the church. When all this failed, I went into my office, turned out the lights and said a prayer. I would have to go to the church and stand out front telling everyone we couldn’t have a meeting. Then, as I walked out of the office, I looked on a shelf near the rear door and saw my keys. I was in shock, but also overjoyed that the agony was over and off I went. Arriving at the church, I opened up, set-up the meeting and waited for everyone. I was very happy but humbled.
A significant spiritual event occurred at the meeting. I decided I would share something about what had happened (with the keys). I was not comfortable sharing at that point in my sobriety, but I did. After sharing, no one said anything. But, after the meeting an old timer came up to me and said “Frank, that was an example of God working in your life.” Boom! Something went off. At that point, I realized my intellect had been defeated. Nothing I had tried worked. But when I gave up and asked God for help, the keys magically appeared. May sound simple, but it was profound to me. I needed to see there was some other power working in my life and there it was. I did not have all the answers. I follow this principle to this day allowing time for prayer and meditation.
There is a principle in meetings called “singleness of purpose” and this had me confused for many years. It means that you do not talk about anything other than alcohol. I always knew drugs were part of addiction and felt that I should talk about my drug use at some point, but I could not in particular meetings. Alcohol was my drug of choice, and the drug use was minimal. I did not, however, want to identify with drug addiction at first and would never accept being called an “addict.” I still don’t, but I am aware it is a part of what the new recovery movement is dealing with, stigma and discrimination.
Partly because of the openness depicted in the documentary “The Anonymous People,” I was able to realize that my use of amphetamines and marijuana was part of a bigger addiction problem. Seeking pleasure was at the heart of it. I also learned about things that were called “substitute” addictions, e.g., gambling, sex, spending, thrill seeking, etc. Each gives some pleasure, and I could see how they fit into the addictive way of thinking, which I freely admit I have.
With marijuana, I found that it could keep me standing when alcohol seemed to make me fall. Amphetamines did the same thing, with the added benefit of making me talk a lot. This seemed paramount for someone labeled a “quiet kid.” I loved the “black beauties,” and they were easy to get back then. They kept me talking which I felt made me more sociable.
In recovery, several significant things have occurred. The death of a sister, a dog, and a mother. I managed to stay sober through each. After about ten years in sobriety, I understood something that had been gnawing at me since early childhood. My sexual identity was wrong. Coming out was necessary. I lamented and thought that all roads to future success I had dreamed of would close. Or at least, so I thought. It was hard to swallow. I felt doomed.
Fortunately, this has not proven to be true.
The first thing that had to end was the marriage (to a woman). After a few more years of honest living, I entered into a long-term relationship with a man, a relationship that has now lasted almost two decades. It was hard to accept that this was my destiny. I was homosexual, or at least bi-sexual. This became my new normal. The confusion was over.
Fear of ever getting back into the legal world led me to try something new. I became a painter, something I always liked and felt I had a natural talent for. I started out working with a friend in the 12-step program doing paint contracting. I worked with him for a while and then started with another contractor who had lots of work in the Washington D.C. area.
I eventually went on my own, hiring several painters to work with me. By this time many of the 12-step principles were taking hold, and I learned honesty and commitment could work for me. My jobs grew, and I kept busy. I quickly gained a good reputation, and I started to be courted by decorators and designers. At some point, I got the opportunity to work with an artist friend in the program, and this opened up a whole new avenue for me, as an artist. I was taught “faux” painting and began to get lots of jobs doing this. It brought out a talent I always had but never put to good use. I did this for many years, eventually getting burnt-out on the self-employment aspect. I also found out what it was like to be the “starving artist.”
My distress over self-employment led me to take a break in 1999. I had lived with a friend for a while who moved back to his hometown in Florence, South Carolina. He invited me several times to visit and to move in with him if I liked. Having been a city boy all my life, I thought I might try this Southern way of life. Luckily 12-step meetings were good there, and I knew I would be comfortable. So, I moved. I have been there ever since. I didn’t condemn and criticize as I had done before. I accepted life as it was in South Carolina.
After moving, I did nothing for a while. I thoroughly enjoyed the slower pace of life here in South Carolina. However, I began to get bored. I have always been a “doer,” and I needed to stay busy. My friend and future partner encouraged me to try substitute teaching. I took the training and started working around the age of 55. Becoming a teacher was something I could never have seen happening. I see this as another gift of sobriety. I worked in the public school system for over 12 years. My recovery skills came in very handy there. I retired almost two years ago.
At age 58 I was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate. I would never have even gone to the doctor without sobriety. My cancer was caught just as it was about to spread and was treated with radiation. It's in remission (almost ten years now). Never did the fear of dying occur. I just kept doing the “next right thing” moving forward the whole time, never sinking into fear and depression. This is the power of positive thinking, another spiritual principle.
Many other things have changed in recovery. In the beginning, for example, I began to dress down and part my hair on the opposite side. For pure vanity reasons, I wanted my hair to part on the right. My wife was a hairdresser and constantly told me I had a natural part on the left, not the right. For some strange reason, I thought I looked better with it parted on the left. The honesty of the program made me realize that I was fighting something foolish. I had a very distorted self-image. The end of my marriage was caused by the same unrealistic view of myself. I could no longer live a lie! To my own self, I had to be true.
I now am reasonable. I pay bills and taxes on time, vote, and even pay insurance. Unbelievably, I drove for about nine years with no insurance whatsoever, health, life, or auto. Self-employment taxes were never paid either. Something I am not proud of. It was nothing more than defiance and anger toward the establishment. This is not how I define my sobriety. Only after 15 years in recovery did I settle up with the IRS. I was lucky. I am now able to tie this behavior to “resentments,” something well covered in the 12 step world. There, they say that resentments are the number one offender, and take out more people than anything else. Without recovery, I am sure I would still be hating the government, the insurance companies, and the medical profession. I saw them as the problem back then. In hindsight, I believe the resentments would have killed me. Ironically what needed to be killed was “self.”
Spirituality has also allowed me to exit out of the consumer commodity culture. I don’t need more and more and better and better of everything. The doing, achieving and performing are no longer required. I know what makes me happy. Spiritual wisdom tells me that less is more.
I am always thankful for my start in the 12-step program. I started sobriety empty and gradually regained my life. It gave me a “new pair of glasses” and let me approach life much differently. I am no longer competing with anyone. I no longer need to get to the top. I accept life on life’s terms. I blend in with the ebb and flow of life, and I experience real joy. Hopefully, I can give some of this back in the new recovery movement.
All of this occurred despite myself. The old self would never have made it. I am thankful for that gentle hand which guides me everyday. I am at peace with the world and with myself. I am teachable. I am living life, not what was or what could be, it is life and no more. I now expect each day to be the very best day I have lived. I am no longer waiting for it to happen. It is occurring right now.
A person in long term recovery